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The gas turbine engine is a common internal combustion engine used by aircraft, serving to produce thrust and propulsion through the combustion of fuel and air mixtures. Similar to the piston engine, gas turbine engines feature a cycle of operation consisting of induction, compression, combustion, expansion, and exhaust. In order to carry out this standard set of operations for achieving flight, gas turbine engines comprise a number of common parts and components. In this blog, we will discuss the makeup of gas turbine engines and their functionality, allowing you to best understand how such combustion engines serve aerospace applications.
At the foremost section of the gas turbine engine, an air inlet serves as an intake for capturing atmospheric air flow, utilizing the compressor section to rapidly accelerate air. Consisting of rotating blades, the compressor will increase the speed of air so that it is compressed to a high pressure before being directed further into the assembly. Once pressurized, the flow of air will enter the combustion chamber, and spray nozzles serve to inject fuel into the stream to create a rich mixture. Through the use of igniter plugs, the fuel and air mixture is combusted.
As the mixture ignites, exhaust gases will rapidly begin to expand within the chamber. Heat at this point is immense, typically sitting around 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The mixture of hot air and gases will then push its way past the combustion chamber to enter the turbine section of the engine. The turbine assembly of an aircraft will typically comprise turbine inlet guide vanes and turbine blades, the former serving to direct the flow of exhaust into the blades. As exhaust collides with the turbine blade assembly, the kinetic energy of the exhaust gases will be harnessed to create mechanical energy through rotation. With this energy, the turbine can drive the compressor and other sections.
Once the exhaust gases have passed the turbine blade assembly, they will move towards the tail pipe or exhaust section of the engine. Depending upon the type of gas turbine engine and its design, the imparting exhaust gases may be used to create thrust for flight, typically being achieved through a tailpipe that expels gases with an increased velocity. In some instances, exhaust gases may also be used to slow the vehicle during certain stages of flight, requiring the operations of thrust reversers for such procedures.
Depending on one’s needs, there are a few common types of gas turbine engines that may be used, each of which present different paths for air to travel through the engine and varying power production methods. These include the turbojet, turbofan, turboprop, and turboshaft engine. For commercial airliners, turbofan engines are the most common. Meanwhile, engines such as the turboprop are unique for featuring designs that combine attributes of gas turbine engines and piston aircraft to benefit certain applications.
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